Time to stop feeling guilty about investing in the arts

by Declan Jordan

When it comes to funding for the arts, there is a very clear difference between stated preferences and revealed preferences.

The Government’s stated preference is for a thriving arts community, delivering exciting and creative opportunities for all our citizens. The implied value of the arts is substantial. However, the persistent lack of adequate funding reveals the real value we as a society and the Government puts on this important sector.

The contribution of the arts to society is difficult to quantify. This is one of the primary reasons why the sector struggles to make its case for adequate funding from scarce resources. It is difficult to argue for greater funding for music, contemporary art, and theatre while we experience a trolley crisis in our hospitals and excessive delays for minor, but vital, operations such as cataract removal.

The need to resolve the homelessness emergency is front and centre, and there is a need to support those with disabilities and their carers with more respite. However, there is a false conflict at the core of these competing demands. Funding the arts sector adequately needs to be seen as an investment, rather than a cost.

A sustainable economy and a society that is worth living in requires a vibrant arts sector. It makes sense, if only from a cold numbers perspective, to invest in the Arts. The economy trades on its reputation as creative, artistic, and innovative. When IDA Ireland presents to potential investors it uses our writers, musicians, and artists to sell an image of Ireland as a place of imagination and inventiveness.

A thriving arts scene, based on adequate funding for artists and the infrastructure to support them, brings dividends in social and economic terms. From an economic perspective, the arts sector brings benefits directly as an employer and consumer, and indirectly through the jobs created in the tourism and hospitality sectors from those visiting Ireland because of our artistic and cultural heritage.

As a nation we seem to be very open to funding businesses in specific sectors in the hope they will grow to create jobs and economic activity. In the arts sector, it seems we think success comes overnight and is freely available.

There is a very narrow perception of what the arts bring to our society and economy. Typically we consider the arts to comprise of our writers, musicians, painters, film-makers, and other visual artists. However, when we consider the products and services we consume every day it is soon obvious just how art has influenced their design.

From branding and advertising, to product specification and construction, there have been many designers engaged creatively. The desk you sit at, the chair you sit on, the computer on which you work, and the kettle you use for your cup of tea have all been designed by someone who uses the principles of art and design. The child or teenager that is inspired by a visit to an art gallery may not become a professional artist, but may find a way to express creativity in industry.

Every year we hear how important it is to encourage our children to study science and mathematics, so that business will have the human capital it needs to be sustainable in the future. This is true.

Equally true is that we need children that have opportunities to engage with the Arts, to harness their creativity and imagination, and be innovative enough to make and do jobs that we haven’t even thought of yet.

Sometimes it seems the arts community is reluctant to make the economic case for more funding. This is despite that case being very strong.

This makes it easier for the Government to continue to under-resource the sector. Our arts community does astonishing things on shoestring budgets. This is not a sustainable approach. We need to recognise the value of the Arts and begin to match that value with resources.

Declan Jordan is director of the Spatial and Regional Economics Research Centre at Cork University Business School

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